The sandwich generation, aka adulting

Adulthood: sandwiched from every side, yet striving to rise above every challenge
Imagine you are the letuce, thick in the middle of challenges...

My bestie suggested I explore a write-up on the sandwich generation. She said it was termed as such because it was exactly that. Young adults sandwiched between an old and a new generation, fending for both. She explained that she had read that it was a very sensitive time with lots of triggers which could lead to depression. The emotional, mental, as well as financial burdens which come with caring for others, are enormous. Sometimes we miss the signs on how much they weigh on us. I gave the subject some thought but still could not find an angle from which to better expound on. Then an incident occurred creating an image of the most packed full sandwich I had ever seen.

Stuck in the middle?

It is August of 2020, I am in the Uk for a family emergency. My brother and his wife are going through every parent’s most dreaded nightmare. The fear of bidding farewell to their two-year-old daughter. My mother has been with them for a couple of months and is about to head back home. They have gotten her a return flight from a different city thanks to Corona and the madness it has come with. They are depending on a family friend to pick her up from the train station and take her to the airport. Upon arrival at the airport, authorities say she can’t travel with an expired passport. I am not sure why this is a problem. Firstly, she is going back to her home country where she would renew the passport. Secondly…nevermind, a story for another day.

She has to go to the Cameroon Consulate in London and get a “Laissezpasser“. Only then can she travel. This family friend, now confused and swamped with work, calls my brother. As much as he would love to drive my mother all one hundred and seventy kilometres to and from London, work won’t permit him. He already took that day off to take her to the airport. I watch my brother pace back and forth as confused as a chameleon in a bag of skittles!

Who else can he call? Should she come back to Manchester? How will that play out? How soon do they need to get a new ticket? What can he do to ease his wife’s worry? All the while, scared to his core for his daughter’s life. Eyes red and swollen from his sleepless nights at the hospital. And then it hits me, this was a perfect picture of the sandwich generation unfolding before my very own eyes.

We hear people say all the time that adulthood is a scam. That adulting is the greatest setup for us all. As if anyone has a choice in the matter- to remain children with not a care in the world. We make jokes and laugh about simpler times. Looking back at our teenage years and the bootless things which caused us unrest. Whatever terminology we choose to define the struggles of young adulthood, the challenges are real and sometimes daunting.

I got the drift of what my bestie had explained a few months prior. Mostly, it sounded to me like one of the many perks of adulthood. Now, it was more apparent. Adulthood was hard enough, the sandwich generation is embedded in most of it. Some young adults are not necessarily sandwiched by two generations, but uncertainties. Remember “the figuring out stage” we mentioned in a previous post? How do you cope and even dare to thrive when pressed on from every side like my brother was? This was just an incident to him. But this is the reality of most adults. Sandwiched like this on a regular. The lessons are many, but here is what I have learned.

Recognize when you need help, then ask…

“Closed mouths don’t get fed”. My brother repeated over and over as he asked every and anyone he deemed could help him. It is as simple as that but a lot of people would be dying in silence. Not knowing that the solution to their problem is a text away. Asking for help does not make you weak, it means you are vulnerable. And showing vulnerability requires courage. Once, I went through my own little sandwich and was narrating the story to an elderly family friend in retrospect. She was not pleased at all! Reprimanding me, she insisted, “always ask for help when you need it ok?” I have since learned that asking for help is coming from a place of strength. And asking is a step towards reducing stress levels.

Have a safety net of people you really can depend on

While asking for help, make sure you can depend on these people, and you are dependable yourself. A lot of people surround themselves with tons of undependable people. It is one excuse after the other when they need these people. I know others who have vowed that they can thrive as an island, as long as they have that one bestie, they do not need anyone. Well, they may be right. I hope for their sake they don’t get into a situation where they need a tribe.

Prioritize mental health

Keep close tabs on a friend or loved one who has had a traumatic experience

Mental health is not a subject we (the African community) talk about often. It is such a shame as it is as real as malaria and all the other tropical diseases we worry about. Recently, I have heard of a lot of people having serious mental breakdowns and falling into depressions for lack of mental health information. Drowning in their silence with no hope of liberation. There are many different types of depression, some of which are caused by events in your life, and others by chemical changes in the brain (click here to read more). Whatever the type of depression, we should worry about anyone who gradually withdraws from friends, activities and loved ones. How many generations before us met untimely deaths because of unchecked depression which led to other ailments?

I have a non-African friend who has been going through an extremely difficult phase. Her first response was to get a therapist, to help her navigate the troubled waters. I have a lot of African friends going through the same situation, therapy has not for one second crossed their minds. We mistakenly believe we can overcome triggers or depression with willpower alone. But depression seldom gets better without treatment and may get worse (click here to read more).

My resolve, to keep close tabs on a friend or loved one who has had a traumatic experience. Have conversations with them which would help them to confront their pain or anger so they do not burry things inside. Suggest professional help when I cannot get through to them.

Form a united front as a family

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Someone would read this and ask why I am stating the obvious. There are a lot of families that live by “chacun pour soi” or “anyman for yiself, God for we all”. They do not carry one another’s burden like it is theirs. While this may not be common in the African context, it does happen. There have been so many instances where someone is in the thick of a terrible breakdown all by themselves. Some friends may rally to get help but I always wonder, where are their family members?

In my brother’s perfect sandwich moment, a cousin offered to drive quite the distance from his city, pick my mother up and take her to London. The story of the additional hurdles they encountered, is a story for another day. But given how hectic life is abroad, it is safe to say that only a united family would do this for one another. Someone else got on top of finding a new ticket and sent the bill to another person who graciously paid. Another person kept my mother company, chatting away as she waited to head to the airport for the second time. I, I’d like to think, was the ever-present therapist, easing the minds of the burdened individuals so they do not wander into dark corners or sunken places.

There’s an old African proverb which says- “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” To thrive as a young adult, strengthen your family ties. Unity in the family results in good tidings, joy unthinkable and lots of prosperity.

This sounds all too simple written out like this. But that is how simple life could be irrespective of the burdens and challenges we face in our various sandwich ages aka adulting. I was reminded recently that, as hard as we think the sandwich age is, it is harder for young adults who have lost one or both parents. While it may be hard to worry about two generations, it is a lot easier to go through the journey with the older generation as one’s confidant and happy place, even if they depend on us. To call them and grumble about your naughty two-year-old. Have them forward you those awfully long irrelevant messages you often wonder who sends to them. To call them and share your career milestones, family growth and new changes.

Check up on your friends and loved ones often, especially those dealing with the loss of one or both parents. Those who have suddenly gone silent. Let them know that they do not have to go through their journey, whatever it may be, by themselves.

What measures are you taking to not only survive but thrive in your sandwich situation? I’d love to read your comments on how we can all make our lives a lot better.